Marcus Walden Rediscovers His Love Of The Slider
It took five organizations, an indy ball stint and 13 years for righthander Marcus Walden to emerge as a prospect—and that emergence has put the 30-year-old in position to make an impact in the big leagues.
To do so, he had to embrace a pitch that he once thought had jeopardized his career.
Walden, a ninth-round pick in 2007, came up in the Blue Jays organization as a sinker/slider pitcher and someone whom Toronto encouraged to model his arsenal after that of Roy Halladay. But when he blew out prior to the 2010 season, he attributed his injury to his slider. He stopped throwing it in favor of a cutter.
But by 2017, having bounced between five organizations, Walden started incorporating his slider again, at a time when he wondered if he’d have to go overseas to continue his career. He was skeptical of the value of the pitch until he got to spring training in 2018, when he heard the feedback from Boston's big league catching corps and pitching coach Dana LeVangie.
"I liked it so much,” LeVangie said. "A lot of guys were sitting (on fastballs), then he started using that slider and they got caught in between.”
Walden, who signed with the Red Sox after the 2016 season, broke camp with the big club in 2018 and got a couple cups of coffee, but injuries limited him to a total of 50 innings in the majors and minors.
Still, he used whatever time he could to sharpen his slider. Now the mid-80s offering looks like his low-90s cutter before significant two-plane break. In tandem with his mid-90s two-seam fastball and a newly developed four-seamer he can elevate, Walden has expanded the zone to leave hitters guessing.
"He’s shown the ability to shape his pitches, and to make small adjustments to get the ball to move a little differently,” minor league pitching coordinator of performance Dave Bush said. "He’s made a lot of progress.”
Walden's unlikely story reflects the ability to develop after more than a decade after being drafted.
"He’s a big-time asset,” said LeVangie.
— Righthander Bryan Mata, who is repeating at high Class A Salem after a back injury sidelined him down the stretch in 2018, has cut his walk rate and improved his strikeout rate all while harnessing his two-seamer and with the development of a slider/cutter.